SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No 8
Andris Nelsons seems to have conducted every major European orchestra since he became chief conductor of the CBSO in 2008. You may have heard him do these pieces with his home orchestra and elsewhere, but not, to judge from various broadcasts, with the mutual empathy of this partnership with the Concertgebouw. The three works are linked if by nothing other than the urgent need for conviction if their repetitions are not to stale. Nelsons holds on to the main theme of the Rienzi Overture and the trumpet’s elegant phrasing may seem irrelevant beside the irrational commitment of Klaus Tennstedt; the percussive glitter of Salome’s dance is dispatched with Bartókian verve and dispassion.
‘The most important thing,’ remarked Mariss Jansons to Erik Levi, ‘is not to follow too faithfully Shostakovich’s metronome markings.’ Whether it’s a breathtaking get-out clause or ‘a fact from the people who knew Shostakovich personally’, Nelsons took his teacher’s precept to heart in this flexible and unusual performance of the Eighth Symphony. He treats new tempi as points of arrival rather than departure, handling the first movement with no gear changes, bringing human warmth to a structure that often derives its impact from implacable (not to say dour) relentlessness and encouraging his wind soloists to phrase personally and vocally. They make a witty gallery of grotesques from the Trio of the second movement but the third movement’s Trio is conversely restrained, even literal, and the movement’s gong-capped climax is athletic, not at all crushing or crass. Nelsons cossets the elaborations of the fourth-movement Passacaglia, taking unusual heed of the molto espressivo markings as if to defend Shostakovich against his devotees. I feel that the detail is so absorbing as to obscure the symphony’s point but, if you don’t care for Shostakovich, you may find this performance surprisingly convincing.